Home > Electoral history, Irish politics > Will Labour Left contest the next general election?

Will Labour Left contest the next general election?

In 1944, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, disaffiliated from the Labour Party because it believed the party was being infiltrated by communists, specifically the selection of Jim Larkin as a general election candidate. Five TDs (James Everett, Thomas Looney, John O’Leary, James Pattison and Dan Spring) associated with the ITGWU left Labour to form National Labour. They contested the 1944 general election as a separate party, winning four seats (Looney losing), and five seats in 1948 (James Hickey gaining). It formed part of the Inter-Party government, led by Fine Gael’s John A. Costello as Taoiseach, and with Labour, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan. James Everett served as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and in working in government, their differences subsided, the National Labour TDs rejoined Labour in 1950 (Noel Whelan got the decade here wrong last Saturday, as well as Derek Keating and John Whelan’s names).

Could we see a similar short-term split? There are now five TDs (Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty, Róisín Shorthall and Colm Keaveney) and one Senators (James Heffernan) who were elected as Labour but who have lost or resigned the party whip. They continue as party members, speaking at party conference, but if this situation persists at the time of the next general election, it’s possible that they would contest on a separate common platform. The analogy with National Labour is that they would aim to rejoin the party fully in due course, on a change of leadership, or shift in policy direction. There are others who might contest under such a platform, possibly under a banner as Labour Left. Cian O’Callaghan, current Mayor of Fingal, who has worked for Patrick Nulty, comes to mind. This would be intended as a temporary split, the name here reflecting the dissent of Labour Left of the 1980s and early 1990s, as opposed to that of Militant, which did split completely, and when its members were expelled, most prominently Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, they did not plan to return. 1

Tho another possible outcome is that Labour would leave the government, and that these rebels would contest as full Labour Party candidates. If this rate of attrition continued, Eamon Gilmore could face a vote of confidence within the parliamentary party within the next two years. I want to see this coalition last, so this is not an outcome I would like to see.

Note: Paragraph edited on a prompt from @CiaranLyng

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  1. Osal Kelly
    29 December, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Unlike in Fine Gael, the Labour Party leader cannot be removed by a vote of no confidence in the parliamentary party. There are under the party’s constitution only two ways a leader can be removed from office:
    (i) two-thirds of members of the Central Council vote to depose him (extremely unlikely);
    (ii) he loses re-election, and a leadership election only has to take place once every decade, so not until 2017 (or after a general election after which Labour is in opposition, which obviously doesn’t apply whilst the party is still in government).

    It seems unlikely that a breakaway Labour grouping would contest the next election as an independent entity. First of all, the left is stronger now than ever, so there is a multiplicity of left-of-Labour organisations to join, and a new grouping would risk getting lost amongst them; also, there is nothing so unifying as anti-communism would have been back in the 40s that party dissidents have in common, which is one of the reasons the National Labour breakaway was so exceptional. Nor is there a strong and charismatic leader around whom to rally.

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